How Peoria County Animal Protection Services is keeping animals out of the shelter
Peoria County saw a 28% increase in the number of animals coming into its shelter in 2022. That was a common post-pandemic boomerang effect observed at shelters in the wake of plummeting intakes at the pandemic's outset in 2020.
What's not nearly as common is that Peoria County Animal Protection Services managed to keep its live animal release rates about the same, despite taking in around 1,000 additional animals.
PCAPS director Becky Spencer attributes that to a few things. The decrease of 1,600 animals coming into the shelter three years ago taught one valuable lesson.
"We learned from that, if you keep the animals out of the shelter, then there are fewer that have to unfortunately meet their fate there," she said.
Part of putting that into practice is trying to keep animals out of the shelter in the first place.
"Maybe someone's down on their luck and needs some food or is having some financial troubles affording the care for the animal," Spencer said. "Well, I've got a shelter full of food and litter and all kinds of resources that I can put out there to the community. And if that's all it is that keeps a pet in the home, then maybe we can just solve the problem and keep the pet in the home."
Spencer said the pandemic-era practice of scheduling intake appointments also helps. The appointments allow shelter staff to ask questions and prepare for taking care of animals placed in the shelter, but sometimes the delay between the time an appointment is made and when it's scheduled to take place is enough for the animal owner to find another solution, such as rehoming the pet with a family member or friend.
"There's so many times that before the pandemic and all of our learnings, people would bring in an animal and then two days later, they call us and say, 'Hey, we found someone, can we have the animal back?'" she said. "Well, that's great. But if we could avoid it from ever coming in, in the first place, and get people to make those phone calls to friends and family at the beginning of the process? That's the goal."
Spencer said PCAPS was able to keep 279 animals out of the shelter last year through a free microchipping program. About 1,400 animals were microchipped in 2022. The program requires a photo ID, but residency isn't required.
While Spencer said the philosophy of returning animals home doesn't apply to chronic offenders or those with a history of violations, she said PCAPS is finding a "fair number" of them can be returned home and kept out of the shelter.
Spencer said the community can also help by fostering animals. She said even taking in a litter of kittens for a few weeks until they get to adoption age can be helpful for the shelter. Volunteering at the shelter is another option.
"Even if you can't come out to the shelter and help us or take any animals in your own home, you can certainly spread the word about what we do," she said.